Dearborn community mourned Muslim pioneer Michael Berry, a Dearborn attorney who was the former chairman of the Wayne County Roads Commission, who passed away on Saturday, October 24.
“He was a pioneer,” Warren David, an Arab-American leader who is president of ArabAmerica.com, told Detroit Free Press on Monday, October 26.
“He was such a huge institution…He was larger than life, an amazing leader in the Arab-American community…He helped a lot of Arab Americans.”
The 95-year-old Berry was a political pioneer in the Arab-American Muslim community.
Recognizing his efforts in organizing and helping bring Arab-Americans and Muslims into the mainstream in metro Detroit, the international terminal at Detroit Metro Airport has been named after him for decades.
A few months ago, the Wayne County Airport Authority agreed to name its new headquarters after Berry due to his notable efforts in helping many of his community members to get government jobs.
Another institution was also named after him, the Michael Berry Career Center in Dearborn Public Schools.
Born in 1920 in southern Lebanon, Beery moved with his family to the US where he graduated from Fordson Junior College, Wayne College, and Detroit College of Law.
In his late twenties, the Muslim immigrant started his first political activities when he got involved in a recall campaign against Derborn Mayor at that time, Orville Hubbard.
In 1950, “he and his associates formed the law practice of Berry, Hopson & Francis in Dearborn,” according to a biography on the website of Michigan State University College of Law, where he has endowed a scholarship.
After Berry and his family were featured in the Detroit Free Press in 1960s as “the typical American family”, the American Information Agency sponsored a trip in 1966 for the family to Lebanon and Egypt to act as goodwill ambassadors to show that the US cared about its immigrants.
Offering condolences to the family of the Muslim pioneer, Dearborn Muslim leaders described him a role model of their community.
He “will be missed,” said Dearborn attorney Majed Moughni.
“He was a role model and a great activist for our community. One thing I learned from Mike Berry is to stand up for justice, even if you have to stand alone.”
The deceased Muslim leader is survived by his four daughters, six grandchildren, four great grandchildren and three siblings.
Serving as a road commissioner for the Wayne County between 1967 and 1982, the Muslim leader was the chair of the 16th Congressional Democratic District for four terms starting in the 1960s.
He “quickly put his mark on the agency by righting a skewed bidding system. In one instance, using his science education and lab training, he questioned the composition of fertilizer being purchased and was able to ‘right’ the formula used, opening up the bidding and saving vast amounts of taxpayer dollars,” according to the Michigan State biography.
“His sharp business acumen earned him the position of chairman, which he held for 10 of his nearly 16 years of service,” the biography said.
“While he was chairman of the Commission, Berry’s tenacious involvement in Detroit Metro Airport expansion, tight oversight of the bidding process, and execution of contracts earned him great respect.”
The Islamic Center of America will hold Berry’s funeral at 11 am on Thursday, October 29.
Berry is the second American Muslim pioneer to die within a month.
On September 26, Dr. Jamal Barzinji, President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) passed away.
Barzinji has over forty years of progressive experience in development and leadership of diverse organizations (business, educational, think-tanks, political and charitable), such as Mar-Jac Poultry, Safa Trust, Amana Mutual Funds, SAAR Foundation, Bank Islam Malaysia, Dean of School of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Social Sciences of International Islamic University Malaysia and North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).